It’s mailbag time! Every week, Dave Birkett will answer your Detroit Lions questions. Send them via Twitter to @davebirkett or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is a $30 million cap hit for trading an overpaid and grossly underperforming player also a $30 million cap hit if a team keeps the same player, when all five players at his position who were drafted last year and a rookie in Cle. are all having better seasons than he is? — @RadioDanH891
Matthew Stafford continues to be a hot topic as we head down the homestretch, so let’s start this week’s mailbag with a couple questions about his future in Detroit.
First, the facts. Stafford still has four years and $84 million left on the record-setting contract extension he signed last summer. He’s on the books for $29.5 million next year, $19.5 million of it in salary and bonuses, and the Lions would assume a $30 million cap hit if he’s traded or a $49 million cap hit if he’s cut. As I explained in depth a few weeks ago, I think both of those scenarios are highly unlikely, but Peter King suggested in his weekly column on NBCSports.com that the Lions should trade Stafford to the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason and that’s emboldened those seeking change even more.
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I understand Radio Dan’s point here. The money invested in Stafford to this point is a sunk cost, and if you’ve determined that Stafford is no longer the quarterback you want to build around, you eat that cap hit, get something of value for him in return – King suggested first- and fourth-round picks – and move on with a new quarterback.
Only it’s not that simple in the NFL. It’s one thing if the Lions determine, say, Dwayne Haskins is a franchise quarterback and are in position to take him. Haskins would give the Lions at least four cap-friendly years to work with – Baker Mayfield’s through 2021 are $10.4 million or below – and the Lions would net additional assets in a trade. It’s a whole other this if the Lions aren’t picking high enough to land a franchise quarterback or decide to go the veteran route.
For discussion purposes here, let’s say the Lions signed Teddy Bridgewater, who might be the best quarterback on the free-agent market next spring, to a Case Keenum-type contract. Well, that’s an average of $18 million a year. It’s not feasible to allocate $50 million of your cap to the quarterback position.
There are other factors at play, too. Would Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia really risk their future on a rebuild? Would they survive the 4-12-type season that would come with a starting a rookie quarterback after this year’s disappointment? And if you’re Martha Ford, and you just paid Stafford $66 million for one season of work, why would trust a rebuild to someone who a year later is trying to convince you that same player is no longer worth the money?
It’s not happening.
How would this franchise survive another QB rebuild? — @Dave_Augres
Here’s the thing about another QB rebuild – it’s not happening in 2019, but it will happen eventually. And since we’re now 27 years removed from that last playoff win and 25 years removed from that last division title, I’d guess the franchise will survive the same as always.
Stafford is two months shy of his 31st birthday, so he’s still in his prime as an NFL quarterback. It was widely assumed when he got his contract last year, and when the Lions hired Matt Patricia in February, that Stafford, Patricia and Quinn were entering a five-year go-for-it window together. Maybe that window stays open longer, or maybe it closes early. It the latter happens, that’s when you can start talking about a quarterback rebuild, because then it’s reasonable to assume a new coach or GM would want his own guy.
True or False. JBC has been put in a position to fail with poor OL coaching in 2017 and losing his top WR’s and RB in 2018. — @MichaelPopiel
Michael makes a fair point here that Jim Bob Cooter has had a lot to deal with in his last 27 games as offensive coordinator. Last year, the offensive line was brutal, and it wasn’t just coaching. The Lions started 11 different combinations up front because of injuries. This year, the line has held up better, but the Lions don’t have much at the skill positions with Golden Tate traded and Marvin Jones and Kerryon Johnson hurt.
That said, I don’t buy into the suggestion that Cooter was put in a position to fail. Injuries happen in the NFL, good teams overcome them. And the Lions had their full complement of weapons the first seven games of the season and it’s not like the offense was lighting the league on fire. I think maybe the offense doesn’t look quite like what Cooter envisioned when he drew it up back in April, but it still needs to be much better than it is.
When Patricia talks about the “long process” of a change in culture and fundamentally changing the organization, do you think he’s just making excuses? Or is there real evidence behind the scenes that this is occurring, and that patience is warranted? — @jimwoehrle
Well, this is a two-part quarter. First, I don’t think Patricia is making excuses at all when he talks of the time it takes to change the culture of an organization, though I don’t think he’s gone down that road often this year. What he’s experiencing in his first year as a head coach is very real. He came in determined to do business in a very Patriot-like manner, because that’s what he knows, but that style is not for everyone. The long days, the grinding practices, the tenor of teaching can wear on folks especially when it’s not accompanied by wins. That’s what happened, and now that we’re heading towards December and the wins still aren’t there, it’s easy for players to look around and ask why?
As for the second part, there clearly is change taking place, the real question is whether it’s the right change and whether it eventually will lead to wins. We haven’t seen enough evidence to answer “yes” to those two questions yet.
What is a realistic draft spot for the Lions in 2019? — @walker7069
According to the good folks at Tankathan.com, the Lions would have the eighth pick in the draft if the season ended today, and I’m going to guess they end up a tick lower than that when Week 17 is in the books.
There are six teams that have outright worse records than the Lions (the 49ers, Cardinals, Raiders Jets, Giants and Jaguars) and none of those seem like a threat to get to five wins. I still believe the Lions can get to 6-10, and possibly even win seven games, and their strength of schedule should have them picking near the top of whatever tier of teams they finished tied with.
Historically, six-win teams have picked in the 8-12 range in the draft (last year, three 6-10 teams picked ninth, 10th and 11) so there’s a good chance the Lions will end up with their first top-10 pick since 2014.
Do you ever recycle old questions since the Lions problems seem the same year to year. Only the names change. — @CpkGeo
No, but that’s a great idea. If you don’t see the call for mailbag questions next week, you know what happened.
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